Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Robertson Davies

Canadian Novelist, Playwright, Critic, Journalist and Professor

"Bible takes much of its color from whoever is reading it, and it provides a text to support almost every shade of opinion, however preposterous."

"Books give no wisdom where none was before, but where some is, there reading makes it more."

"Books like friends, should be few and well-chosen."

"Books of the avant-garde either establish themselves as books of lasting value, or they slip from the rear guard into the discard, and I believe the writers I mentioned have not proven trivial."

"Books that you carry to the fire, and hold readily in your hand, are most useful after all."

"Boredom and stupidity and patriotism, especially when combined, are three of the greatest evils of the world we live in."

"Bounty always receives part of its value from the manner in which it is bestowed."

"But as a skeptic I am dubious about science as about everything else, unless the scientist is himself a skeptic, and few of them are. The stench of formaldehyde may be as potent as the whiff of incense in stimulating a naturally idolatrous understanding."

"But I wonder if people do not attach too much importance to the first-name habit? Every man and woman is a mystery; built like those Chinese puzzles which consist of one box inside another, so that ten or twelve boxes have to be opened before the final solution is found. Not more than two or three people have ever penetrated beyond my outside box, and there are not many people whom I have explored further; if anyone imagines that being on first-name terms with somebody magically strips away all the boxes and reveals the inner treasure he still has a great deal to learn about human nature. There are people, of course, who consist only of one box, and that a cardboard carton, containing nothing at all."

"But in their second-best rank, books of this academic sort are, of all books, the easiest to write. They chew over what has already been well chewed; they grapple with other scholars, seeking to bear them down into the academic ooze; they explore the vast caverns of the creator's spirit with no illumination save the smoky and fitful rushlight of their own critical intelligence."

"But the temptation to wallow and disport myself in the purple prose of the doting collector is strong, and it will need all my vigilance to resist it."

"By this time I had discovered that all the gamey bits were cut out of the school texts, because I had a Shakespeare of my own; the Ontario Department of Education was hard at its impossible task of trying to educate the masses without in any permanent way inflaming their minds."

"Canada was settled, in the main, by people with a lower middleclass outlook, and a respect, rather than an affectionate familiarity, for the things of the mind."

"Celtic civilization was tribal, but by no means savage or uncultivated. People who regarded the theft of a harp from a bard as a crime second only to an attack on the tribal chieftain cannot be regarded as wanting in cultivated feeling."

"Childhood may have periods of great happiness, but it also has times that must simply be endured. Childhood at its best is a form of slavery tempered by affection."

"Civilization rests on two things: the discovery that fermentation produces alcohol, and the voluntary ability to inhibit defecation. And I put it to you, where would this splendid civilization be without both?"

"Clarity is not a characteristic of the human spirit."

"Classical quotation is the parole of literary men all over the world."

"Clear your mind of CAN'T."

"Comparatively few people know what a million dollars actually is. To the majority it is a gaseous concept, swelling or decreasing as the occasion suggests. In the minds of politicians, perhaps more than anywhere, the notion of a million dollars has this accordion-like ability to expand or contract; if they are disposing of it, the million is a pleasing sum, reflecting warmly upon themselves; if somebody else wants it, it becomes a figure of inordinate size, not to be compassed by the rational mind."

"Courage is a quality so necessary for maintaining virtue, that it is always respected, even when it is associated with vice."

"Courage is the greatest of all virtues, because if you haven't courage, you may not have an opportunity to use any of the others."

"Criticism is a study by which men grow important and formidable at very small expense. He whom nature has made weak, and idleness keeps ignorant, may yet support his vanity by the name of a critic."

"Curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous mind [intellect]."

"Curiosity is, in great and generous minds, the first passion and the last."

"Depend upon it that if a man talks of his misfortunes there is something in them that is not disagreeable to him; for where there is nothing but pure misery there never is any recourse to the mention of it."

"Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."

"Dictionaries are like watches, the worst is better than none and the best cannot be expected to go quite true."

"Disease generally begins that equality which death completes."

"Do not accustom yourself to consider debt only as an inconvenience. You will find it a calamity."

"Do not accustom yourself to use big words for little matters."

"Do not suppose, however, that I intend to urge a diet of classics on anybody. I have seen such diets at work. I have known people who have actually read all, or almost all, the guaranteed Hundred Best Books. God save us from reading nothing but the best."

"Do they show us the future as it matures in the womb of the present?"

"During the years when my own daughters were pupils in this school I attended many of these gatherings, and heard many speeches made by men who stood where I stand at this moment. They said all sorts of things. I recall one speaker who said that as he looked out at the girls who were assembled to receive prizes, and to pay their last respects to their school, he felt as though he were looking over a garden of exquisite flowers. He was drunk, poor man, and it would be absurd to treat his remark as though he were speaking on oath."

"Emotional chaos is not pleasant; distillation of that chaos afterward may perhaps be pleasant in some of its aspects, and undoubtedly gives pleasure to others."

"Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it. Martyrdom is the test."

"Every man is rich or poor according to the proportion between his desires and his enjoyments."

"Every man is wise when attacked by a mad dog; fewer when pursued by a mad woman; only the wisest survive when attacked by a mad notion."

"Every man makes his own summer. The season has no character of its own, unless one is a farmer with a professional concern for the weather."

"Every man who attacks my belief, diminishes in some degree my confidence in it, and therefore makes me uneasy; and I am angry with him who makes me uneasy."

"Every other enjoyment malice may destroy; every other panegyric envy may withhold; but no human power can deprive the boaster of his own encomiums."

"Every quotation contributes something to the stability or enlargement of the language."

"Every state of society is as luxurious as it can be. Men always take the best they can get. ."

"Everything that enlarges the sphere of human powers, that shows man he can do what he thought he could not do, is valuable."

"Excellence in any department can be attained only by the labor of a lifetime; it is not to be purchased at a lesser price."

"Except during the nine months before he draws his first breath, no man manages his affairs as well as a tree. We are inclined to believe those whom we do not know because they have never deceived us."

"Exercise is labor without weariness."

"Extraordinary people survive under the most terrible circumstances and they become more extraordinary because of it."

"Fanaticism is overcompensation for doubt."

"Few people can see genius in someone who has offended them."